Reports Sep 11, 2019 | 8:49 AMby Colin McGourty

Khanty World Cup, 1.1: Rise of the teen stars

16th seed Radek Wojtaszek lost with White to 113th seed Johan-Sebastian Christiansen in the biggest upset of Day 1 of the 2019 FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. There were only four upset wins in total, with Niclas Huschenbeth beating former German no. 1 Arkadij Naiditsch, while elsewhere two young stars stood out: 17-year-old Andrey Esipenko upset former World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov and 15-year-old Nihal Sarin beat Jorge Cori. Teenagers Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Alireza Firouzja, Jeffery Xiong and Sam Sevian also impressed.

15-year-old Indian GM Nihal Sarin, complete with milk bottles by his new sponsor Akshayakapla, went on to score an upset win over Jorge Cori on Day 1 | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2019 World Cup using the selector below:

And here’s live commentary on Day 1:

It’s impossible to summarise all 64 matches from Round 1 of the FIDE World Cup, so let’s look at some highlights:

Most convincing crush by a favourite

It shocked no-one Ding Liren was the first player to win at the 2019 World Cup | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Round 1 of the World Cup is traditionally about the favourites beating up the outsiders, and there was plenty of that going on in Khanty-Mansiysk. Ding Liren was fresh from beating Magnus Carlsen to the Sinquefield Cup title and in Russia faced a player rated over 900 points below Magnus – 52-year-old FM Shaun Press, representing Papua New Guinea. Although Shaun put up some resistance at the start, the outcome was to be no surprise, with the Chinese no. 1 finishing with a nice queen retreat to gain the fastest win of the World Cup:

Ding said afterwards:

I came here with a victory in the USA, so I feel very good, and I’m not as stressed out since maybe I already have a spot for the Candidates, since my advantage in rating is very large. So I just want to enjoy the competition.

Other stars such as Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov put on masterclasses on how to beat lower-rated opposition, with many different approaches. 

MVL brushed aside an ambitious pawn sacrifice from Nigeria's Daniel Anwuli | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

There were endgame grinds by Sergey Karjakin and Harikrishna, simple chess by Leinier Dominguez, a nice attack by Yu Yangyi or the murky brilliance of a double pawn sacrifice by Alexander Grischuk. Wesley So took 45 moves to finish off Costa Rica’s Sergio Duran Vega, but the game was essentially decided by a surprising little tactic after 17…Qc8?

18.Nxa7! Nxa7 19.Bxb6 and White had won a pawn.

The most impressive crunch, however, was by Ian Nepomniachtchi, who in a Russian interview afterwards repeated his opinion that knockout tournaments aren’t the best qualifying events due to the element of luck involved. Having said that, he won the Moscow Grand Prix and also explained that he’d decided to skip next month’s FIDE Grand Swiss to preserve his energy (literally he said “to save lives”) and focus on the Grand Prix and World Cup events. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi was interviewed by Eteri Kublashvili after a great game | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

His opponent, untitled but talented Mongolian teenager Sugar Gan-Erdene, didn’t know what had hit him!

23…b3! was perhaps the moment Sugar realised it wasn’t going to be his day, and worse was to come: 24.c3 bxa2+ 25.Kxa2 Bxd6 26.Qxd6:

The white king is looking shaky, but it seems White has things largely under control… until Nepomniachtchi all but blitzed out 26…Nb4+! At a relatively low depth Stockfish doesn’t yet realise it, but White is lost whatever he does, and there followed 27.cxb4 Qc4+ 28.Ka1 axb4 29.Qd5 Qc2 30.Qa5 Ra8 31.Ba7 b3!

The pawn on b3 ensures that Black is not just threatening to win material but to give mate down the a-file (32.Rc1 Qxf2 33.Bxf2 Rxa5+ 34.Kb1 Rfa8 and White has to give up a rook with 35.Rc8+ to delay the end). After 32.Qa3 Nepomniachtchi, who still had over an hour on the clock, made his remaining moves so fast that his opponent almost lost on time, but if he’d had an extra hour he also wouldn’t have been able to find an escape. At the end there was no defence to the threat of taking on a3 and giving mate on a2:

Biggest upset

Not all favourites found it so easy, with Levon Aronian even getting into trouble before drawing with White against the oldest player in the event, 53-year-old Egyptian Essam El Gindy, while Hikaru Nakamura was on the worse side of a draw with White against France-based Algerian Bilel Bellahcene

Levon Aronian had claimed to be saving energy in the Sinquefield Cup to be ready for the World Cup, but he had anything but an easy start | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

In terms of a real upset for a top seed, however, we have to look at Polish no. 1 Radek Wojtaszek’s game against 21-year-old Norwegian Johan-Sebastian Christiansen. Everything was going fine for Radek until it seems he decided to act in his opponent’s time trouble – Johan-Sebastian had just over 5 minutes to his own half an hour:

The computer suggests 25.Na4, targeting b6, while 25.Nb5!? is another interesting option – 25…axb5? 26.cxb5 and Black is helpless against the threat of Rc7. Instead 25.f5?! conceded Black the e5-square, and one more loose move (29.b4?) later was enough for Black’s pieces to take full control of the board. White was soon two pawns down for no compensation, leaving Wojtaszek with a mountain to climb with the black pieces in the next game.

Peter Svidler was unable to convert an extra pawn against his young Cuban opponent, but it was a decent start with the black pieces | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

While not as big an upset on paper – Arkadij Naiditsch dropped 31 points last month in Chinese events to drop to a 2643 rating in a year he started on 2736! – Niclas Huschenbeth’s win over Naiditsch is already a career highlight for the young German player. He proved better prepared in the super-sharp Winnawer French and went on to show a seemingly innocuous ending was anything but:

22.Nxf6! Nxf6 23.g5 Rxh2 24.gxf6 created a passed pawn on f6 and later g7 that would decide the game, even if Arkadij’s resignation at the end looked a little premature.

There were two more upset wins, but we’ll get to them later.

Greatest escape

In terms of the favourites this category has a clear winner! 15th seed and 2003 World Cup finalist Dmitry Andreikin very nearly lost to Brazilian Grandmaster Krikor Mekhitarian, who reached this position after move 30:

There are multiple wins, with 31.Qa7! Rf8 32.e7 Re8 33.Rd8 and exchanging on e8 perhaps the simplest and most forcing (32.Rd8! would be a nice flourish), but the issue here was the clock! Krikor had 1 minute and 22 seconds, and instead played the plausible 31.Ra1?!, when after 31…Qxb3 32.Rxa6 Qc4 Black was back in the game. There was still a trickier win for White available later on, but down to under a minute on his clock Krikor didn’t find it and the game fizzled out into a draw.

Best finish

Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the queue to make it past security on a chilly day in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

There were memorable attacking wins by Adhiban and Dmitry Jakovenko, but perhaps the nicest finish came from a player we’re more used to thinking of as Fabiano Caruana’s coach – Rustam Kasimdzhanov. His opponent, Russian veteran Evgeny Bareev, who now represents Canada, was low on time in a tough position and overlooked the beautiful 33.Qxd4+!

If the knight on c6 wasn’t pinned it would be guarding all the necessary squares - d4, d8 and a7 – but it is pinned, and if the game had continued we’d get to see the white queen visit all those “impossible” squares! 33…Qc5 34.Qd8+! Ka6 35.Qa8+ Kb6 36.Qa7#

Most promising teenager

Let’s start by saying this is an impossible category to judge, since it seems the new generation rising now has the potential to enter the elite en masse in a way we haven’t seen since Magnus Carlsen and the current crop of 25-30 year olds reached the top. They’re a decade older than the newcomers, who are currently led by 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja from Iran, who’s already broken into the 2700 club at an age when only Magnus Carlsen and Wei Yi had previously managed. 

Firouzja is already strong enough to be a danger to anyone in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Firouzja began with a silkily smooth win over Armenia’s Arman Pashikian, and afterwards confidently showed his game on the live show with Alex Yermolinsky. Daniil Dubov and Ding Liren potentially await Firouzja in the next two rounds.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov getting used to the limelight | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Another star beginning to look confident in front of the media is the youngest player in the event, 14-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan, who has come a long way since we reported on him beating grandmasters as a 9-year-old. He began with a quick draw with White against Russia’s formidable Maxim Matlakov, and while he struggled to find words when interviewed by Eteri Kublashvili, what he said was laced with ambition:

I have not a certain strategy, but I want to play my best chess and show something new and to get also very important practice, and in the future World Cups maybe to play my best and to fight for medals.

The talent is international, with US hopes resting in a couple of 18-year-olds: Jeffery Xiong, who scored a powerful win with Black over Igor Lysyj, and Sam Sevian, who impressively converted an endgame after attacking 20-year-old Aryan Tari with the white pieces.

19-year-old World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo from Iran also started with a win, over Russia's Maksim Chigaev | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Two young players stood out, however, for scoring the day’s other upset wins – though it’s testimony to how fast they’re improving that neither game really felt like an upset. 17-year-old Russian Andrey Esipenko beat Ruslan Ponomariov with the black pieces, and what was notable was that he did it in the same dogged, technical manner that Ruslan himself used to terrorise the chess world when he won the FIDE World Championship in a 128-player knockout back in 2002. Ruslan was just 18 back then, but now at the age of 35 is semi-retired, playing his last rated games in April.

Did I mention I have a new sponsor? | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The other upset win came for 15-year-old Indian Nihal Sarin, the 90th seed, against 39th seed Jorge Cori from Peru. Again the clock was a big factor, as Nihal got down to 8 seconds when making his 23rd move, but it was mutual time trouble, and the young Indian never lost control when trying to convert an ending with opposite-coloured bishops. 47.a6! was a nice move, emphasising that the black rook is tied down to defending the f7-pawn:

Most dramatic turnaround

There were some dramatic twists and turns on Day 1 of the World Cup. Check out how Tamir Nabaty pounced on a less than obvious blunder by Sethuraman, but for swings from winning to losing two games stood out. Robert Hovhannisyan from Armenia would have scored an upset win over Russia’s Anton Demchenko if he’d just recaptured a piece on move 38, but instead he gave a check and must have thought he was winning when he followed up with 39.Qe8?

He would be winning, if not for 39…Rd8! (played with 9 seconds on the clock). Demchenko was a piece up and went on to win.

We’ve saved the best for last, though. Constantin Lupulescu was also poised to score an upset win by punishing some overambitious play from Igor Kovalenko, who is two pawns down with the white pieces:

After 51…Bxg5! even if Black later blunders it’s probably only into perpetual check. Instead after 51…Nb4? 52.Qh2! White was winning. 52…Bxg5 was now too late due to 53.Kxg5 Kf8 54.Kf6! Mate on either h8 or g7 can no longer be stopped:

The venue is a little crowded for Round 1 of the World Cup, but by Friday 128 players will have been cut to just 64 | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

So that’s all for Day 1 of the 2019 FIDE World Cup! 64 matches may seem a lot to try and follow, but in two years’ time it’s going to get even tougher. FIDE has announced that the 2021 World Cup will have an extra round at the start, where 156 players will compete in 78 matches. The winners will then be joined by the 50 top seeds to make 128 players for the rest of the event – i.e. after Round 1 it will be almost identical to the current tournament. That extra round at the start has allowed FIDE to get experimental with qualification, with a player set to be chosen by each of the 100 top scoring chess federations in the Olympiad.     

For now, however, we have the immediate business of the second classical game in Round 1. 33 players must now win on demand or they’re out of the World Cup. Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST!

See also:

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